Korean PKO advance unit to leave for Haiti today

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Korean PKO advance unit to leave for Haiti today

An advance unit of Korean peacekeeping operations forces aiming to reconstruct earthquake-ravaged Haiti will depart Korea by means of a civil aircraft today, the Defense Ministry said yesterday, even as rescuers in the devastated nation pulled a survivor alive from the rubble of a marketplace.

“The National Assembly has approved a government plan to dispatch the PKO force,” said Yoon Won-sik, vice spokesman for the ministry. “An advance party of 30 members will leave for Haiti from Incheon International Airport [today] at around 7:30 p.m.”

The forward group, mostly composed of military engineering troops, plans to organize a post at the coastal city of Leogane, some 40 kilometers (24 miles) west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, where the troops are slated to be stationed. Leogane was the second most devastated city after the capital, and is considered a vulnerable point by the United Nations.

In addition, a 1,200-ton cargo ship loaded with engineering equipment and supplies will depart for Haiti from a port in Busan tonight. The ship is scheduled to arrive at Port-au-Prince on March 12.

The main unit of 210 military personnel, including medical officers and 120 engineers, will head for the Caribbean country around Feb. 27 to provide general reconstruction assistance. The UN said Monday it is “racing against time” to provide shelter for displaced residents before the rainy season begins.

The founding ceremony for the PKO unit, hosted by Gen. Han Min-koo, the Army chief of staff, is scheduled to take place at a unit under the Special Warfare Command next Wednesday. A farewell ceremony for the unit supervised by the Defense Minister Kim Tae-young will follow.

The National Assembly approved the deployment plan during a plenary session with all 173 participating lawmakers voting in favor of the dispatch. The deployment is expected to cost an estimated 28.7 billion won ($24.6 million), with the Korean government covering expenses up-front, and partial repayment coming from the UN at a later date.

A joint research and investigation team composed of nine government officials conducted a survey of Haiti for seven days beginning on Jan. 29.

Haiti was hit by an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude on Jan. 12. Some 200,000 people were killed, and the government was plunged into chaos.

By Lee Min-yong [smartpower@joongang.co.kr]

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